27 January 2006

A hundred grand!

The novel has just reached the 100,000 word mark! There is something very satisfying about that number. Yes, I know I still have another 30,000 or so to go, but 100,000 is a kind of watershed. For the past several months it has felt like an uphill struggle to get here. Now, hopefully, it will be downhill all the way to the end.

I am so pleased with having got this far that even the fact that I have just transferred the entire contents of my current account to the Inland Revenue can’t dent my mood!

Of course, once I reach the end I will still have a good deal of work to do. I have been working on the James Thurber principle of writing: ‘Don’t get it right; get it written!’ In the process the novel has sprouted any number of unexpected branches. They will have to be pruned (or cut out altogether). I anticipate losing between 10 and 20 per cent of the novel before it is fit to send out to publishers. But that is in the future; right now, I am really, really happy!!

23 January 2006

Arrogant, moi?

In a recent blog entry entitled ‘In god's image? Yeah, that'll be right...’ a friend comments that ‘I firmly believe that the entire "man is made in the image of God, animals are not" view is nothing more than complete arrogance on our part’. Now I happen to believe that the imago dei is one of the fundamental biblical metaphors which Christian theology must use to build up a Christian understanding of human nature. Does that make me arrogant?

I readily admit that many Christians over the past two millennia have unthinkingly added ‘animals are not’ to the belief that ‘man is made in the image of God’, but you won’t find that rider in the Bible. More importantly, I think the very location of the statement about being made in God’s image subverts any attempt to use it as a basis for asserting our superiority over other creatures. It comes before the story of the Fall. So, in some primordial paradise, humankind imaged God. Looking at ourselves honestly today (post Auschwitz, post Hiroshima, etc.), we can only say that if we reflect God in any way, we are a distorting mirror.

What then is the imago dei? In light of the realities of human nature revealed by the atrocities of the twentieth century, it is certainly not a statement of fact; not something which encourages complacency or arrogance. For a Christian, it can only be a call from God; a challenge to reflect in our daily lives something of God.

And if you still think that is arrogant, consider how God is revealed in the New Testament. God is not revealed as a Greek tyrant or an oriental potentate, but as a common member of an oppressed people; not someone who demands worship of his followers, but rather who gives of himself generously to all who come to him. And ultimately he gives to the point of death and beyond.

That doesn’t make me feel superior to anyone or anything. No, it scares me!

22 January 2006

Hello world

For years I have been promising myself that I would get around to creating a web page. Realistically that is not going to happen in the near future, so I have decided to start a blog.

For me the great advantage of the blog over traditional web pages is the possibility of bringing together all the different parts of my life in a single narrative. Sometimes I feel as if the world is trying to split my life into half a dozen different compartments, and a static website would only make that even more acute. I can see it now – a separate page for each of the compartments – when what I really want is to see those different aspects of myself as interconnecting parts of a whole.

So I may as well begin by introducing some of the aspects of who I am, which I hope will find expression in this blog:

First and foremost I am a Christian. The Christian faith is what shapes my life and makes sense of the world for me. At present that finds expression through membership of St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, Glasgow and the Third Order of the Society of St Francis. I also frequently attend evening services at Sandyford Henderson Memorial Church, an evangelical Church of Scotland with a tradition of preaching. OK, I admit it, I’m complicated: I find I need both the liturgical and eucharistically centred approach to worship of Episcopalianism and preaching that is both expository and relevant (a characteristic of evangelical Presbyterian preaching at its best). My Christian faith is also what makes me deeply dissatisfied with the notion of a life that is compartmentalized. Instead of sealed boxes, a better image would be the facets of a jewel none of which has any reality without all the others.

Inevitably, given my academic bent, I am also a theologian. At one time I even earned my living from theology. But, for me, it has always been more than a profession or vocation. It is about the way I relate my Christian faith to the world around me. ‘Faith seeking understanding,’ is the way classical theologians put it. In more modern terms, I am the kind of person who cannot help asking ultimate questions. Some of my attempts to answer those questions have even found their way into print.

That brings me to a third facet of who I am: I am a writer. This goes back a long way. I have been an avid writer for as long as I can remember. Yes, there are the theological books and articles. But I have also kept a journal for many years and I enjoy writing fantasy. At the moment I am nearly 100,000 words into a fantasy novel exploring climate change!

I earn my living from words as well; as a freelance copy-editor and proofreader. Sometimes this can be incredibly frustrating and stressful, e.g. when authors seem unable to follow basic instructions on how to set out a reference list consistently or a client forgets to pay you for three months. But it is also a fascinating opportunity to engage with new books on all kinds of interesting topics. For example, I have recently edited an academic monograph on the psychology of Jihad and am currently working on a Christian socialist critique of global capitalism.

Somehow I find time to be a singer. To be precise, I sing second tenor in the chorus of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. It gives me the opportunity to take part in a wonderfully diverse repertoire: everything from Bach and Vivaldi to John Adams and James MacMillan. In fact, next up is a John Adams piece: we shall be singing his On the Transmigration of Souls in Edinburgh and Glasgow at the end of next month.

Last but by no means least, I am a husband (a recent and wonderful development in my life) and, by a previous marriage, a father (of three teenage and post-teenage children). However, you are unlikely to read much about my wife or children in this blog for the simple reason that I feel it would be a violation of their privacy to publish anything about them without seeking their approval first.